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Washington Bids Farewell to Retirement in Alexandria, Virginia

For eight days, George Washington was deluged with honorary dinners, speeches and revelries at almost every town along the road to New York and the presidency. Perhaps, though, his first stop was the most memorable and emotional.

Just nine miles from his home at Mount Vernon, Washington was greeted by the citizens of Alexandria, Virginia.

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The General's associations with this town were many and varied. At a dinner held at Wise's Tavern, Mayor Dennis Ramsay spoke for Washington's long-time neighbors:

AGAIN your country demands your care.—Obedient to its wishes, unmindful of your own case, we see you again relinquishing the bliss of retirement; and this too, at a period of life, when nature itself seems to authorize a preference of repose!

Not to extol your glory as a Soldier—Not to pour forth our gratitude for past Services—Not to acknowledge the justice of the unexampled honor which has been conferred upon you, by the spontaneous and unanimous suffrage of three millions of Freemen, in your election to the Supreme Magistracy—Not to admire the patriotism which directs your conduct, do your Neighbours [sic] and Friends now address you.—Themes less splendid, but more endearing, impress our minds.—The first and best of Citizens must leave us! Our Aged must lose their Ornament! Our Youth their Model! Our Agriculture its Improver! Our Commerce its Friend! Our infant Academy its Patron! Our Poor their Benefactor! And the interior Navigation of the Potomack [sic], an event replete with the most extensive utility, already, by your unremitted exertions, brought into partial use—Its Institutor and Promotor!

“Farewell!—Go; and make a grateful people happy; a People who will be doubly grateful, when they contemplate this recent sacrifice for their interest.

“To that Being, who maketh and unmaketh at his will, we commend you; and, after the accomplishment of the arduous business to which you are called, may He restore to us again the best of Men, and the most beloved Fellow-Citizen.

In response, Washington made the following statement to the “Mayor, Corporation and Citizens of Alexandria”:

ALTHOUGH I ought not to conceal, yet I cannot describe, the painful emotions which I felt, in being called upon to determine whether I would accept, or refuse, the Presidency of the United States[.]

The unanimity in the choice—the opinion of my Friends, communicated from different parts of Europe, as well as of America—and the apparent wish of those who were not entirely satisfied with the Constitution in its present form, and an ardent desire, on my own part, to be instrumental in conciliating the good will of my Countrymen towards each other, have induced an acceptance. Those who know me best (and you, my Fellow-Citizens, are, from your situation, in that number) know better than any others, my love of retirement is so great, that no earthly consideration, short of a conviction of duty, could have prevailed upon me to depart from my resolution “never more to take any share in transactions of a public nature.

For, at my age, and in my circumstances, what possible advantages could I propose to myself, from embarking again on the tempestuous and uncertain ocean of public life?

I do not feel myself under the necessity of making public declarations, in order to convince you, Gentlemen, of my attachment to yourselves, and regard for your interests. The whole tenor of my life has been open to your inspection; and my past actions, rather than my present declarations, must be the pledge for my future conduct.

In the mean time [sic], I thank you most sincerely for the expressions of kindness contained in your valedictory address. It is true, just after having bade adieu to my domestic connexions [sic], this tender proof of your friendship is but too well calculated still further to awaken my sensibility, and increase my regret, at parting from the enjoyments of private life.

All that now remains for me, is to commit myself and you to the protection of that Beneficent Being, who on a former occasion, hath happily brought us together, after a long and distressing separation. Perhaps the same gracious PROVIDENCEE will again indulge us with the same heart-felt felicity. But words, my Fellow-Citizens, fail me. Unutterable sensations must then be left to more expressive silence, while, from an aching heart, I bid you all, my affectionate Friends, and kind Neighbours [sic], farewell!